McMINNVILLE, Ore. - Simon Lamson scored three touchdowns and Linfield’s defense held St. Thomas scoreless in the fourth quarter on its way to a 31-20 win in the NCAA Division III quarterfinals Saturday afternoon at Maxwell Field.
The Wildcats (12-0) advance to the NCAA semifinals for the first time since winning the national championship in 2004. They play next Saturday at Wisconsin-Whitewater (13-0), a 31-13 winner over Wittenberg (Ohio).
After jumping out to an early 14-0 first quarter lead on two short Lamson touchdown runs, Linfield had to fend off a dangerous St. Thomas offense that rode the backs of stars Ben Wartman and Fritz Waldvogel.
The Tommies used late TDs in the second and third quarters to cut the Wildcats’ lead to 24-20 with 2:33 left in the third quarter.
St. Thomas seemed to have things going in the right direction after Kirk Baglien picked off Aaron Boehme in the back of the end zone with a little more than five minutes left in the third period. After Wartman busted through for 42 yards into Linfield territory, Waldvogal sprang loose for a 29-yard catch-and-run touchdown to make it 24-20.
The Wildcats answered back with a time-consuming 10-play, 52-yard drive, resulting in Lamson’s third score of the day, punching in the score from two yards out.
From there, the Linfield defense and special teams took over. Trailing by 11 with 12:47 remaining, St. Thomas was stopped at the Linfield 47 after a double reverse failed on a fourth-and-three play.
After being forced to punt with just under nine minutes on the clock, the ‘Cats caught a break when Waldvogel muffed the ensuing punt. Nate Dixon picked up the loose ball at the St. Thomas 36-yard line.
Wildcats linebacker Alex Tkachuk hammered the nail in the coffin when he recovered a fumble by Tommies quarterback Dakota Tracy with 3:55 to play. That would be the last time UST would see the ball.
The Linfield defense limited St. Thomas to just 312 yards of total offense, including 169 through the air. The Wildcats forced five Tommies turnovers - two fumbles and three interceptions.
Linfield’s special teams play set up Linfield’s first touchdown of the afternoon. After penalties beset the Wildcats first drive, Josh Repp pinned the Tommies back at their one-yard line with a 36-yard punt.
The Wildcat defense forced UST into a three-and-out series, resulting in a punt to Taylor Skore that was returned to the 23-yard line. With a short field, Lamson set up his first score with a 21-yard sprint to the one-yard line on a screen pass.
Two St. Thomas drives ended in interceptions by Skore and Christian Hanna. Two plays after Hanna’s interception, Boehme connected with Ryan Henderson for a 56-yard strike down to the UST 1. Lamson walked into the end zone on the next play from scrimmage.
At the 13:56 mark of the second quarter, St. Thomas got on the board with a Wartman 3-yard touchdown run. Dakota Tracy hooked up with Waldvogel earlier in the drive for a 47-yard completion. Waldvogel had a big first half, hauling in five catches for 103 yards.
After a field career-best 41-yard field goal by Maika Kunioka put Linfield up 17-7 with eight minutes remaining, Linfield’s special teams came up big. Drew Fisher blocked the Tommies’ next punt, resulting in a short field and an eventual 12-yard touchdown reception by Trevor Patterson.
Boehme finished the day just 18-of-36, finishing with 256 yards and one touchdown. Lamson led the ‘Cats with 85 yards rushing.
Wartman was the workhorse on the ground for the Tommies, racking up 143 yards rushing on 27 carries and one touchdown. Waldvogel had seven catches for a game-high 137 yards.
Hanna finished the day with two interceptions. Paul Partlow and Kole Krieger led the Wildcats with eight tackles apiece.